When the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish question’ was decided upon may never be established, but one group that certainly contributed to it were the SS Einsatzgruppen, or ‘task forces’. These were paramilitary death squads, under the direction of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, which executed thousands of innocent Jews, Polish intelligentsia, Gypsies and political opponents, mainly by shooting them and burying victims in pre-prepared mass graves. Sonderkommando soldiers were especially assigned to these groups, but there is also evidence of Wehrmacht soldiers, members of the SD, SS police and local police battalions assisting with the executions.The Einsatzgruppen were stationed in Poland almost from the beginning of the war, and were later split into different groups occupying different areas of the Soviet Union after Operation Barbarossa had begun.
The most notorious of these killing operations took place in the Babi Yar ravine in Ukraine between 29-30 September 1941, when 33,771 Jews were killed by one Einsatzgruppe. This operation took place simply because Major-General Kurt Eberhard, Police Commander for Army Group South, SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln and Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch decided that all the Jews of Kiev must be wiped out. The need of the Einsatzgruppen was eventually phased out due to the cost of rounds of ammunition to carry out the task and the mental strain such work appeared to be imposing on those responsible for executions. Many victims of the Holocaust were later gassed to death en masse. It is difficult to establish how many people may have been killed by the Einsatzgruppen squads, but historian Raul Hilberg places his estimate at two million people, 1.3 million of them Jews. We can estimate such numbers from the Einsatzgruppen reports that were compiled by the Commanders of each group and sent the SS-Reichsführer and other colleagues.